Graduate Student Merit Awards - 2021 Program Details


IDSA recognizes exceptional student design talent through our annual Graduate Student Merit Awards program. The competition highlights the very best creativity, problem solving and design brilliance in each of IDSA's five North American Districts. The competition consists of a single round of judging conducted entirely online which determines the GSMA Winner(s). Our judging committee is made up of design educators and professionals who review all submissions and select winners based on the criteria: scope of work, quality of work, quality of thought, visual presentation, verbal presentation. One winner may be selected from each District for this prestigious distinction. The number of winners selected may be adjusted based on the quantity of applications received and there are no school-based GSMA Finalists. 

Graduate-level industrial design students from North American schools with an active IDSA Student Chapter and Education Representative are encouraged to submit their work through our online platform in order to enter the GSMA competition. There is no fee to enter; however, participants must be a current IDSA student member. Multiple students from a school can submit their work for consideration.

Graduate Student Merit Award winners benefit from massive media exposure through IDSA's extensive reach and high-level industry recognition. Winners receive an online profile, a print feature in INNOVATION magazine and special distinction at the annual International Design Conference. IDSA is proud to witness the incredible acceleration that winning an GSMA provides in the professional success of those who participate. Winners quickly become some of the most notable young designers practicing today.

The 2021 GSMA program opens for entry on March 8. April 5 is the deadline to enter. Winners will be notified on or approximately May 1, 2021. 



Any graduate-level industrial design students from a North American school with an active IDSA Student Chapter* may submit their work through our online platform in order to enter the GSMA competition. There is no fee to enter; however, participants must be a current IDSA student member. Multiple students from a school can submit their work for consideration.

*A valid Student Chapter has at least five IDSA student members whose faculty advisor to the chapter is a member of the industrial design faculty and an IDSA member.


Entry Guidelines

  • Open entry begins March 8, 2021 and concludes on April 5, 2021.
  • Students who are not IDSA members must join as an IDSA student member in order to participate. 

  • Entrants will use IDSA’s online awards platform to complete their submission for review.

  • Submissions will be comprised of:

    • Project portfolio detailing up to three (3) individual projects. PDF format, not to exceed 15 pages in length. Your portfolio should address and display competency in the following areas: 

      • Your problem statement and design solution

      • Your research and synthesis

      • Design approach and process

      • Clearly define student role in group work

      • How your work takes risks, is unique and future-oriented

      • How your work can be implemented in practice/academia

      • How your work contributes to the body of knowledge of design

    • Three (3) individual images that best represent the projects in your portfolio, one image per project

    • A three (3) minute video statement verbally addressing the following prompts:

      • How would you explain what a designer does to a 6-year-old and an 80-year-old? 

      • What did you learn in your program of study that shapes you as an industrial designer?

      • If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself related to your design education?

    • Written responses to the following questions:

      • In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges for designers?

      • What would you like to design to make a positive impact for society?

  • All submissions need to be completed by April 5, 2021.

  • Winners will be notified on or approximately May 1, 2021.

Prizes & Recognition

Each GSMA Winner receives the following:

  • A complimentary 1-year Young Professional membership to IDSA upon graduation.
  • A profile in INNOVATION magazine’s Winter 2021 issue.
  • Recognition on with other GSMA Winners.
  • A complimentary registration to attend and deliver a presentation at the virtual 2021 International Design Conference.
  • A commemorative trophy.
  •  A complimentary 1-year Premium Profile placement for their school on IDSA’s ID Schools directory.
  • A $250 gift voucher, redeemable for a value of up to $250, courtesy of Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

GSMA Judging Criteria


Jurors must use the evaluation tools built into IDSA’s online awards platform to rate students. The resulting scores will determine the top candidate in each District or top overall candidate. If the scores result in a tie, phone/video conference call discussion among District jurors will be conducted in order to choose the GSMA Winner(s).


Scope of Work

The submitted portfolio of projects should demonstrate proficiency across multiple mediums, project categories AND/OR problem areas. The student should display an in-depth understanding of the entire design process and design research from start to finish; this should be reflected within the body of their work.

Quality of Work

The submitted portfolio of projects should demonstrate a high-level of proficiency in industrial design skills such as: user research, data analysis & synthesis, experiment design, ideation (sketching/rendering, form development, and prototyping), modeling (3D and physical), materials and/or manufacturing. The final solutions or presentations of process or ideas should be aesthetically fitting and exhibit appropriate balance between form and function.

Quality of Thought

The student should demonstrate in-depth and holistic understanding of a problem/opportunity scoping, design criteria and context AND the ability to connect research insights to design outcomes. The student is effective in making connections between their work and practice/academia, and demonstrates thinking that contributes to advancing the design profession. This critical analysis should be reflected (and communicated) in their research and process, and/or final solution(s). The work should be forward thinking and unique.

Visual Presentation

The submitted materials should be clearly organized, well composed and visually compelling. The work should be representative of a cohesive collection and communicate an intelligible narrative throughout.

Verbal Presentation

The student should articulate their thoughts, work and process in a clear and succinct manner. Verbal statements should be delivered with a compelling narrative and demonstrate holistic understanding of the subject matter.